Election 2015: Green Party sets the bar on the environment

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Canadian voters who care about the environment above other issues will likely vote for Green Party candidates in the upcoming election. The recently released Green Party platform, Vision Green, covers everything from Arctic strategy to zero waste. It addresses important issues such as "Railways -- re-establishing the national dream," and "Reporting the well-being of the nation more accurately."

The Greens will not form the next government. This makes it easier for them to provide a detailed environmental agenda -- albeit one that largely lacks dollar amounts. 

Money isn't everything. Regulations and standards can protect the environment at a relatively modest cost to taxpayers. Vision Green says that a government which "regulates corporate behavior" can help achieve a more liveable world. 

Corporations complain bitterly about environmental regulations. They argue that (a) regulations kill the economy by driving up the price of goods and services, and (b) good corporations will act in the public interest without regulations. But many economic studies conclude that well-thought-out regulations can drive corporate innovation and economic growth, and allow good corporations to out-compete the bad. Vision Green suggests that "the more ambitious environmental standards and regulations are adopted, the more competitive and productive is your economy."

What regulations and standards would be addressed by a (hypothetical) Green government? Vision Green touches upon railway safety, food safety (including restricting trans fats), corporate concentration in agriculture, fishing practices (including banning bottom-trawling), mine site remediation, water-efficient technologies, drinking water supplies, animal welfare, maritime activity in the Arctic, smog precursors, pesticides, and radionuclides. It also mentions bus stations, highway maintenance, organic and local foods, GMO labelling, building energy retrofits, energy efficiency of lights and appliances, auto emissions, biofuels, and extremely low-frequency magnetic fields and radio frequency radiation.

Vision Green also calls for a revenue-neutral "green tax shift" -- similar to the one proposed by Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion during the 2008 federal election. The Green Party version would include a carbon tax (the Greens prefer the term "carbon fee and dividend system"); taxes on cancer-causing substances and junk food; tax incentives for homes and businesses to invest in energy conservation and electricity storage; a two cent/kWh federal subsidy for renewable energy generation where provinces and territories provide matching support; and elimination of subsidies to fossil fuel corporations. 

What about the other parties?

The Liberals have released a 12-page platform entitled Real Change: A New Plan for Canada's Environment and Economy. While addressing some of the same environmental issues as Vision Green, it is less comprehensive and does not recognize the social, economic and environmental benefits of regulating industry. It pledges to phase out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, and calls for stronger standards in two areas: air quality, and energy efficiency for consumer and commercial products. It would add electricity storage technologies and electrical car charging stations to the list of investments eligible for accelerated capital cost allowance, and establish a "Canada Green Investment Bond to support both large- and community-scale renewable energy projects." It would invest $100 million more per year in organizations, such as Sustainable Development Technology Canada, that support the development of clean technology.

Real Change is relatively silent on environmental taxes -- it says that a Liberal government would "ensure that the provinces and territories have adequate tools to design… their own carbon pricing policies." 

The Liberal platform pledges to re-establish a federal environmental assessment process that "ensures decisions are based on science, facts, and evidence, and serve the public's interest" and that "provides ways for interested Canadians to express their views and for experts to meaningfully participate in assessment processes." 

The Liberals would restore $40 million to Canada's ocean science and monitoring programs, and increase the amount of Canada's marine and coastal areas that are protected, from 1.3 per cent to 5 per cent by 2017, and 10 per cent by 2020. They would reverse the Harper government's funding cuts to Parks Canada and "rapidly develop a road map to meet Canada's international commitment to protect 17 percent of our land and inland waters by 2020." They promise free admission to national parks during Canada's 150th celebration of Confederation in 2017, and free admission thereafter for children under 18 (the Greens promise free admission to "all those who enter on bicycles or on foot.")

As of the writing of this article, the Conservative and New Democratic parties had not provided detailed platforms on their websites. 

Under the heading "Supporting Conservation and Outdoor Communities," the Conservatives' website shows a video of Stephen and Laureen Harper on a speedboat in the Yukon. In the video, Mr. Harper pledges to "work with fishing and hunting groups to support conservation and tourism." 

The NDP website says "Canadians know we don't have to choose between a strong economy and a clean environment -- that's a false choice." The New Democrats promise to make "big polluters pay to clean up their mess," to "strengthen laws to protect Canada's lakes and rivers," and to "kickstart renewable energy production and drive down climate-changing emissions." During the September 17 leaders' debate on the economy, Tom Mulcair argued that the NDP's plan for a national cap-and-trade strategy would be the best policy to guarantee emissions reductions.

On September 8, CBC News posted an article by Susan Lunn entitled "Health care, environment largely ignored in campaign so far." She concludes that the economy was the issue raised most frequently in speeches and press conferences by the three main political party leaders, while "other issues, such as the environment and climate change, were reduced to fine print." 

With the economy, health and the environment so closely intertwined, it's unfortunate that party leaders (other than Ms. May) aren't giving Canadians a more balanced coverage of all three issues in the run-up to the October 19 federal election.

Ole Hendrickson is a retired forest ecologist and a founding member of the Ottawa River Institute, a non-profit charitable organization based in the Ottawa Valley.

Photo: Laila Goubran/flickr

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